Hikaru no Go

Long time no see, my active readerbase of a sempai, some random guy from twitter and half an alpaca. Haven’t featured an anime on this blog in quite a while now, eh? Yet today, we’ll change that, set to conquer them all!

For this time’s anime coverage, let’s enter Hikaru Shindo’s life, your average 12 year old middle school student up to pretty much not really anything. That, however, is to change quickly when he stumbles upon his grandfather’s old, said-to-be-cursed Go board. Henceforth, the ghost living within that board, Fujiwara no Sai, a one-of-a-kind Go master from more than a millennium ago and former Go ghost mentor of Hon’inbo Shuusaku, joins Hikaru on a journey into the world of Go. And so we unleash a tale connecting the past and the present to reach a new future in pursuit of what every Go player wants to attain – the Divine Move.

I’ve made it a habit to generally cover lesser known titles on this blog since hey, look at the URL, you’re supposed to discover things that are good and it’s not much of a discovery if you’ve already previously known a title, right? So introducing a WSJ classic that conquered Japan with a storm, revitalizing an entire board game amongst children and teenagers seems a bit off. But I was a somewhat perplexed to find out that its popularity had long since faded or just not carried over particularly well to the West at all. So go figure, here we are.

Hikaru no Go Hikaru and Akira

Getting the appeal of Hikaru no Go down on paper is both an easy and a fickle task to fulfill. It’s difficult insofar as that most of the compliments I could attribute to it boil down to “it’s well-written and executes its premise fantastically”. That, however, in itself is a really vague statement and doesn’t sell people on anything unless they know you well enough to give you the right amount of credibility. It’s a bit more of an easy task on the flipside however since Hikaru no Go isn’t some outlandish story totally unheard of before but something we’ve all experienced in one way or another and have fond memories of – getting emotionally invested in characters partaking in a competitive freetime activity. It’s 2018, you’ve seen your fair share of sports anime most likely. And Hikaru no Go works well because it understands shounen tropes while also being well-written as fuck: You have a hot-blooded, dramatic, emotionally nuanced rivalry where one pulls the other without knowing it almost if fate had meant for their ways to be intertwined. A touching, fun, dramatic and meaningful master-student relationship between a spirit from the past and a current-day middle school student. A sheer endless amount of confrontations with wildly different stakes yet all of them high-tension. And this is something that Ryuuou no Oshigoto and the likes could never achieve – it’s not like they’ve ever tried in the first place anyway.

In fact, I believe Hikaru no Go is a prime example to show to others in regards to what this medium can do with a premise most would deem boring. And it doesn’t do this in a gimmicky way, taking a subject and writing some shallow nonsense around it akin to how Shokugeki no Soma or club-themed moe anime do it. This isn’t like, say, FREE! where characters don’t swim and swimming itself is just used as a mere vehicle to wring out cheap drama and slice of life, the writer here actually cares, both about Go and the people who play it.

Hikaru no Go Internet Go

What helps tremendously is that the character writing is quite impeccable: Adults talk like adults. Characters are easily discernable, even the three trillion middle-aged men but not through quirks and gimmicks but successful characterization, even when their screentime is little. There is not even a single character you could mistake for someone else. Every character is realized to a point that they could be a main character in a different work of fiction since there’s plenty to work with. Side characters are interesting and enrichen the work as a whole, from Yun-sensei to Zama Ouza to Kishimoto. And they occasionally reappear. These are living and breathing human beings and that’s what makes them interesting.

Which isn’t to say that other aspects of the writing would have to hide themselves: Struggles feel relatable, even if you don’t play Go. The pressure to succeed is something we’re all familiar with and there are enough cases where you take pity on an opponent losing, even if he is a side character who has never appeared before and will most likely not appear again. When you’re supposed to feel bitter about something, you do feel bitter about something. The writing is effective enough to get you to wherever it wants you to be.

And just like that, when you start this show, by episode 2, you’ll want a real match between Tohya Meijin, the best Go player from the present and Fujiwara no Sai, the best Go player from the past, to happen. And Hikaru no Go doesn’t play pretend but gives you exactly that as a reward to so many episodes of build-up. And it’s every bit as good as one would have it. This is a genuinely cathartic, satisfying anime. To give another example, the very first moment when Hikaru makes his own move, interrupting Sai’s game, being fascinated by the way his opponent put the stones on the Go board is already a strong, fulfilling one and a sign of what’s yet to come. This is not an anime that gets good only halfway through or something like that – it gets better halfway through and already starts out as good from the get-go.

Hikaru no Go Touya Koyo

Yet how do you fill up 75 episodes of an anime about people playing a board game without things ever getting boring? Simple: Internet Go, school Go tournaments, the Pro League, international Go players, a huge variety of characters and aspects. This anime is rich in content and extensive to boot. It concerns itself with many different individual stages of Go but also doesn’t overly dwell on them.

Likewise, Hikaru moves up in the world of Go at a perfect pace – neither too fast, overselling him, nor making things come to a halt. Here we have a main character who ends up losing not too rarely but also attempts to reach for heights far above him that one day, he will no doubt get to. And over the course of two years, Hikaru actually grows older and looks older as a result. This is realistic and feels immensely rewarding. With extending scope, progress actually does feel like progress in this show.

So when Hikaru’s mother suddenly gets overwhelmed by the many steps her son proceeds through and the life consequences that come alongside them and therefore asks his teacher what to do, you not only know that this is a story grounded in reality but also one where the things that happen have impact and that feels good. Think Baby Steps, except significantly better.

Hikaru no Go Kaga

If there’s one big issue with Hikaru no Go, then it’s the fact that it doesn’t end. Or rather it actually does but without concluding its story first. And that is very regrettable insofar as that the show could have – and, quite frankly, should have – been easily twice as long. It goes for a thematically beautiful, storywise fitting stopping point and there aren’t any major cliffhangers left open of character subplots to finish. Given its circumstances, the conclusion is as good as it can be and the last episode is phenomenal. But it’s not a complete story and as far as I’m concerned, that very much matters. Should you go for Hikaru no Go regardless? Oh, absolutely. I’ll just say this one thing: In terms of quality, it’s the closest to Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters in this genre. And if you know me, that means a lot.

Which probably makes one beg the question: So, should you read manga or watch the anime? I’d argue – and that’s what I’m writing about after all – to watch the anime, I’ve experienced them both (the manga first, many years ago). Sure, the manga looks better with Takeshi Obata in charge of the art whereas the anime has neither crisp nor creative visuals and I’m not a fan of its bland coloring but while the OST is, for the most part, rather redundant and not worthwhile, it does have its nice tracks and those get used where it matters the most and make one huge, huge difference. There is also the fact that while the anime doesn’t cover all of the manga, the latter one ends in the middle of nowhere to begin with and the anime has an utterly brilliant cutoff point before losing steam as the manga did thereafter.

Hikaru no Go Hikaru and Sai

At the end of the day, Hikaru no Go feels like a journey you wouldn’t want to miss out on. The dialogue is good. Confrontations are HYPE as fuck. The main character can lose. It tells an emotional tale with great character development while feeling a bit like a shounen coming of age story in the process. Also, last but not least, there is that one twist that you will see coming but leaves you speechless anyway. So watch it, you owe it to yourself.

With all that said, I suppose that this is what separates a good anime from the rest: Brilliant execution. Of which Hikaru no Go has plenty. And so, a story about a young boy playing an Asian board game you don’t understand has conquered the hearts of many in Japan. And quite easily also mine.

Final Verdict: Very Good.

1 thought on “Hikaru no Go

  1. Pingback: The 2018 Backlog Summary | Beyond The Mountain Lies A World Of Frills

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